Considering that this is Michael Brandman's second outing with Robert B Parker's Jesse Stone, it was bold to title the novel Fool Me Twice. But if anything, Brandman is making Stone his character, not Parker's. As I mentioned when I reviewed his first Stone novel, Killing The Blues (you can link to that review here), Brandman's Stone is more of a loner, more aggressive, and somewhat darker than Parker's Stone was. Parker could make Stone's sometimes flippant attitude work because he was a master of quick scenes and sharp patter, he also delineated supporting characters quickly and with far more efficiency than Brandman's able to do.
Instead, Brandman has blended together three stories, and in each of them Stone is able to crack wise with pompous figures of authority. A movie production has come to town, and the leading lady fears she's being stalked by her soon-to-be-ex husband. A spoiled teenaged girl is driving while using her mobile and Jesse, as is his wont, takes her on as a personal project (though he never refers her to a shrink, as Parker's Jesse might have). And most bizarrely, what starts out as a nuisance call from an old busybody, about her water bills getting bigger, turns into something far more complicated. The stories don't cross over, but their concerns reinforce each other to some extent, keeping the plotlines going. And of course there is a bit of romance for Stone, but this Stone has no pesky ex-wife haunting him, no Sunny Parker either, and we quickly learn that the last novel's entanglement has disappeared.
Jesse has always been Parker's most problematic lead character—he's Spenser in many ways, but with more id and less ego (or super ego), and more of a lone wolf. Spenser kept him entertaining with his baseball past, his drinking, and his multi-layered problems with the opposite sex, but Brandman has eliminated most of that, and Jesse's sessions with his shrink. He's gained a more forward-driven plot, but lost some of the relative complexity of the character, and in terms of women, frankly, turned him into Tom Selleck on TV.
Here he brings back Parker's Crow, a figure much like Spenser's Hawk, only without the repartee. Crow was more a construct than a character, and his backstory with Jesse's deputy Molly is ignored, partly because Molly has become a different sort of character too. Crow doesn't do much except play his part in the plotline, which is OK since he'snot very interesting, but with the state cop Healy rendered one-dimensional as well, it leaves only Jesse and his verbal sparring partners as characters.
Taking over someone else's character is a thankless task. Stick too close to the established formula and you're riding coattails, change it and you're messing with the master. I wrote about this with Don Winslow's taking over Trevanian (link here), but it seems to me that what Brandman is trying to do is gently make this Stone his own, or better, the Stone who was already there in the TV movies which he and Parker collaborated on. It's not a bad way to proceed, but he needs to go all the way, and fill in the missing blanks of character around Stone to really make it work.
Fool Me Twice by Michael Brandman
Quercus £18.99 ISBN 9781782064763
NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)